The influence of climate, hydrology and permafrost on Holocene peat accumulation at 3500 m on the eastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

David J. Large, Baruch Spiro, Marion Ferrat, Michaela Shopland, Malin Kylander, Kerry Gallagher, Xiangdong Li, Chengde Shen, Goran Possnert, Gan Zhang, W. George Darling, Dominik Weiss

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Peatland of the eastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau lies at the convergence of the East Asian and Indian monsoon systems in eastern Asia. To understand the evolution of this peatland and its potential to provide new insights into the Holocene evolution of the East Asian monsoon a 6 m peat core was collected from the undisturbed central part of a peat deposit near Hongyuan. The age-depth profile was determined using 1614C-AMS age dates, the peat analysed for a range of environmental variables including carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen concentration, bulk density, δ13C and the associated spring water analysed for hydrogen and oxygen isotopes. The age-depth profile of the recovered peat sequence covers the period from 9.6 to 0.3 kyr BP and is linear indicating that the conditions governing productivity and decay varied little over the Holocene. Using changes in carbon density, organic carbon content and its δ13C, cold dry periods of permafrost characterised by low density and impeded surface drainage were identified. The low δ18O and δD values of the spring water emanating around the peat deposit, down to -13.8 and -102‰ (VSMOW), respectively, with an inverse relationship between electrical conductivity and isotopic composition indicate precipitation under colder and drier conditions relative to the present day. In view of the current annual mean air temperature of 1 °C this suggests conditions in the past have been conducive to permafrost. Inferred periods of permafrost correspond to independently recognised cold periods in other Holocene records from across China at 8.6, 8.2-7.8, 5.6-4.2, 3.1 and 1.8-1.5 kyr BP. The transition to a cold dry climate appears to be more rapid than the subsequent recovery and cold dry periods at Hongyuan are of longer duration than equivalent cold dry periods over central and eastern China. Light-dark banding peat on a scale of 15-30 years from 9.6 to 5.5 kyr BP may indicate a strong influence of decadal oscillations possibly the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and a potential link between near simultaneous climatic changes in the northwest Pacific, ENSO, movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and the East Asian Monsoon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3303-3314
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number27-28
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Archaeology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


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